“Do not be led astray by diverse and strange teachings” (Hebrews 13:9 RSV).
Precis: Jesus–“Follow me” (Mt 10:38//Mk 8:34//Lk 9:23//Jn 21:19, 22). Saint Paul–“Be ye followers of me, as I am also of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1, DRB). Joe Biden: “Follow the science, man!” When Jesus returns, will there be no religious faith but, instead, only scientific “faith”? Can it be that the antichrists (see 1 Jn 2:18, 2 Thess 2:3-4) will be wearing, not business suits or soldiers’ uniforms, but laboratory smocks? Beware the “Savior Scientist.”
When Jesus comes again, will He find any faith left on earth? (Luke 18:8). I think our Lord, upon His return, will find an abundance of faith—but not in God. Within a decade, if not within only three or four years, we rebellious human beings will have finally and fully reduced God to the status of a pleasant memory, a mere fiction, a campfire story. “Real” divinity, we will rather universally tell ourselves, comes from real gods—and we, led by our inestimable and inimitable scientists, are the genuine gods.
There is, of course, a clear and present danger to religious faith posed by Herod-like ideologues wearing perfectly tailored suits or olive-green military uniforms, promising conquests for their cause or country. An equally great danger to the faith, I think, is posed by Simon Magus-like (Acts 8:9) super-scientists wearing white laboratory coats, promising the Elysian Fields to and for us all.
Science and religion ought to be–and certainly can be–complementary, not contradictory. That path has been well charted for us by legions of deeply believing and highly accomplished scientists. (One thinks, for example, of the superb work of bioethicist Father Tad Pacholczyk.) Let us be clear that science is a great natural good. When it is elevated, though, to divine status, replacing God, it poses grave danger. Chesterton, as is so often true, was right: when we abandon the (real) supernatural, we are left with the unnatural.
Apotheosized science is, in fact, unnatural. If the world, the flesh, and the devil are our spiritual enemies, think of the perils confronting us when our enemy combines all three, for a science having become idolatrous is at once secular (not sacred), bodily (not spiritual), and diabolical (devilish). Not for nothing are we warned that “The worship of idols . . . is the beginning and the end, the cause and the result of every evil” (Wisdom 14:27).
Step by prideful step, for instance, we march forward into the “Singularity,” a future event, now very much in progress, having a technological point at which there will be such spectacular growth in technology, robotics, and computers that life will be irreversibly transformed. The era of androids, therianthropes, chimeras, cyborgs, and the like is hard upon us. We have only to follow the, well, science fiction to see gruesome guesses about what awaits us, pretending to solve all our problems but, much more likely, murdering much, or even all, of the human race.
But the grisliest science is said to be all right, provided the results are sufficiently promising. And why, after all, can’t we grow clones to serve as body parts stores for us? Unfettered genetic engineering, complemented by exponential growth in artificial intelligence, may be able to produce (its version of) a master race (or has that term been used previously?) We are about to see a revived eugenics, now “on steroids.” Evidently, the cancel culture has yet to catch up with Francis Galton (1822-1911), who loathed prayer but who loved eugenics, having, in fact, invented that word.
Do not discard your scientific dystopian novels. From Shelley’s Frankenstein to Wells’s The Island of Dr Moreau to Huxley’s Brave New World–for us it will soon be back to the future—at least literarily, if not literally.
It was Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) who once told us that God is simply a projection of our wants, needs, and potential onto a fictitious figure in the sky. God, in short, has not created man; we have created God. We are ready to remedy that by creating Cyborg, the perfect cybernetic being, whom (or which?) we will be able to see and touch and communicate with. Just, as they say, follow the science, discarding, as you take that trail, all the outdated maxims about the First Commandment and, by the way, all other ancient religious notions (such as the teaching that God made them male and female [Gn 1:27]).
“Cyborg World” will be the zenith of what we now call the secular world. When, finally, we dispense with the limitations imposed by the ancient superstitions of God, Revelation, Soul, and Heaven/Hell, we will enter (or so goes the promise) a future of endless possibilities as we journey, not to “Heaven,” but to the stars! This is faith (however corrupted)! When Christ comes again—as He will—there will be an abundance of (astronomical and androgynous) faith which will await Him, as will the perfect hermaphrodite race. There will be no need for a savior. Pangloss-like and Pelagius-like, we will have saved ourselves.
Here, then, is our destination: Religion will become mere superstition. Science will become perfect idolatry. We properly think of an idol as a golden calf (Ex 32:2-4) or some other blasphemous substitute for God. The dictionary, though, tells us that idol may also be “a person or thing that is greatly admired, loved, or revered.” Science is increasingly an idea or ideology that is universally revered, if disproportionately. When science is viewed as the omnipotent dispenser of justice and mercy, our entirely proper respect for science metastasizes into a heresy. Science then becomes divinized, and its relationship with religion then mutates into a bitter zero-sum game.
About seventy years ago, Bishop Fulton Sheen fought a kind of holy war against the spiritual encroachments of an increasingly “divinized” psychiatry. Why go to Confession, for example, when you can have a nice chat with your psychiatrist, all the while reclining on a comfortable sofa? It may be fair to say that a kind of uneasy détente was then slowly worked out between religion and psychiatry, but the battle is now joined once more. Science is regarded by many as the ultimate oracle of truth. That is, however, neither the provenance nor the purpose of science.
We know that science cannot answer “why” questions but only “how” questions. We live, though, at a time and in a place in which students are strongly drawn to study STEM subjects. This is not merely because of their genuine intellectual substance and practical necessity, but also because studying, say, metaphysics and logic seems to offer small prospect of lucrative employment when the college bills come due.
Having spent very many years teaching military ethics, I would suggest analogically that training soldiers how to fire and maintain their rifles is an important skill; but educating them about whether and why and when to fire them is an even more critical concern. In such matters, science, however valuable in its own realm, does not help. By the same token, the architecturally sound and esthetically pleasing buildings used by Planned Parenthood to slaughter the innocent are disguised abattoirs, the building of which is to be deeply regretted in and by a properly penitent society (which, of course, we are not [cf. Ez 12:2]).
The faith which comes to us from the Apostles helps us immensely in trying to learn from science rather than exalting it beyond its status as worthy discipline but not as Prime Disciple. An idolized science is the ultimate secularism, which not only replaces God but repudiates Him. That is one sense of the admonition we read in James: “Don’t you know that to be the world’s friend means to be God’s enemy? Whoever wants to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy” (4:4; cf. John 15:18). Any person, thing, or idea which denigrates or dismisses God is sinful. The classic definition of sin is Aversio a Deo, conversio ad creaturam (turning from God and turning to the creature). Thus, an ethically deracinated science may be sinful (cf. Is 14:14-15).
When we abandon God, we seek, instead, a creature—a Savior Prince or a Savior Scientist—to lead us. In such a morally impoverished society, that “savior prince” might be Hitler or Stalin or Mao Tse-tung. Or the savior scientist might be someone like Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi doctor, or any of a number of contemporary scientists advocating a panoply of vile ideas, all the while promising magnificent “scientific” breakthroughs.
Some years ago, in receiving a prestigious award for his writing, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) explained in four words the cause of moral disorder swirling around us: “Men have forgotten God.” In eight words, the first of the Ten Commandments had instructed us never to forget God: “Thou shalt not have strange gods before me” (Ex 20:3). As the epigraph to this column points out, when we have strange gods, we have strange, or bizarre, or wicked teaching (see also Col 2:8 and Eph 4:14). So it is with a science when it is heretically regarded as omniscient or omnicompetent.
The core of the strange or wicked teaching which has wormed its way into our faith, our politics, and our science is simply this: the resurgence of the primordial heresy that we are our own god. That lie was the first diabolical deception (Gen 3:5); it was accepted by our first parents, and it is accepted, to one degree or another, by all of us today (see CCC #407). Pride or arrogance, after all, is the chief of the deadly, or capital, sins. Certainly, a supercilious attitude can be found in many religious leaders, past and present.
The arrogance of sin, in which we all share (Rom 5:12, 1 John 1:8), is also found in science and in scientists. We humans tend to reject authoritative teaching (CCC #1783) in our personal and professional lives, and a divinized science similarly rejects religious teaching and ethical boundaries. The human body and psyche become, not gifts of God, but laboratories for experimentation. To reiterate the earlier point: The world, the flesh, and the devil are thus united in a science-gone-mad.
That is a compelling reason that we must not permit the Church to be infected with a secularism which tells us that all that now matters in the world is this or that political or scientific agenda. The “savior scientist” emphasizes only this world: there is, in such an ideology, after all, only the bodily life, nothing beyond (cf. Heb 13:14). Moreover, the past half-century has witnessed the moral compromise of certain religions which have, in good measure, foolishly allied themselves with this secular view (cf. Dt 32:6a, 15-18; Gal 3:1).
When the Church is turned into an interest group principally promoting a social, secular, or scientific agenda rather than the salvation of souls, something is desperately and dangerously deranged. When our preaching and teaching emphasize the things and thoughts of this world rather than our eternal destiny (cf. Sirach 7:36), we have become infected with the same “Edenic disease” which seized Adam and Eve and seduced them into believing that they could safely forget God. They “bought into” the first lie from the eternal liar.
G.K. Chesterton once wrote that the problem with Christians of his day (he died in 1936) was that the world did not hate them enough (cf. Luke 21:17). Isn’t that at least equally true of us Catholics today? We try so often and so hard to be loved by the world that we tend to forget whose we are. That is, St. Paul tells us that Christ bought us for a price and that we must never forget that and become slaves of men (1 Cor 6:20; 7:23). Similarly, we must never invest contemporary scientific prospects–or bioethical research–with a significance that belongs only to the eternal and to the sacred. This world is not heaven, and no science can make it so.
It was Pope John XXIII who wrote, in 1959: “All the evils which poison men and nations and trouble so many hearts have a single cause and a single source: ignorance of the truth–and at times even more than ignorance, a contempt for truth and a reckless rejection of it. Thus arise all manner of errors, which enter the recesses of men’s hearts and the bloodstream of human society as would a plague. These errors turn everything upside down: they menace individuals and society itself.”
The “contempt for truth” and the “reckless rejection of it” are the hallmarks of a modernist creed which tells us to forget God; to abandon Christ and His holy bride, the Church, or at least to reinvent the Church to serve the divinities of the day (cf. Jer 2:9-13; 17:5); to find knowledge and wisdom only in ourselves; to seek the leader—the Savior Scientist—who can lead us to Paradise; to know that this world is all there is, so that emphasis on salvation is treated as mere “nonsense on stilts”; and that good and evil, right and wrong, and virtue and vice are established only by society, by science, and by those who govern, rather than by God (cf. Psalm 19:7-14).
When Christ returns, do you think He will find faith on earth? We have traditionally and properly read that to mean that our Christian faith (cf. Heb 11:1) can be lost to the meretricious lures of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Faith can be contaminated to such an extent that it comes to mean deep conviction in fraudulent forces—in fuehrers or duces or great helmsmen, or in idolatrous scientists who promise us the kind of salvation which they cannot grant, offering us heaven but delivering only hell. Have faith—but only in the Creator, not in the creature or in the creature’s metastasized science. “Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3, DRB).
Deacon James H. Toner (M.A., William & Mary; Ph.D., Notre Dame) is Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Ethics at the U.S. Air War College, a former U.S. Army officer, and author of numerous books, articles, reviews, and monographs. He has taught at Notre Dame, Norwich, Auburn, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Holy Apostles College & Seminary. He has contributed many columns to The Catholic Thing, Crisis Magazine, One Peter Five, and the Wanderer, as well as myriad academic and military periodicals. He and his wife Rebecca have three sons and eleven grandchildren.